By Carol Gorga Williams
Asbury Park Express
November 21, 2013

EST LONG BRANCH — In 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women made 59 cents for every $1 men made for the same jobs.

A half-century later — despite other efforts at legislation and the U.S. Supreme Court weighing in — women now make 77 cents for every $1 men make for the same work, according to Peter S. Reinhart, director of Monmouth University’s Kislak Real Estate Institute.

A seminar led by former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, with help from four other successful women, took place Monday at the university to inspire the next generation to continue the fight toward parity.

“All Pay Is Not Created Equal: Why Women in 2013 are Still Struggling for an Even Playing Field in the Workplace” featured speakers Robyn Mingle, a human resources executive; Seena Stein, founder of a commercial real estate firm; Sherrie String, senior vice president of human resources at Meridian Health, and lawyer Alitia Faccone. Scheduled in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, the forum was coordinated by Reinhart.

Stein, founding partner of the New Jersey office of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, one of the largest commercial real estate advisory firms, recounted earning degrees in chemistry and microbiology and still being unable to get any job in her field except the position of librarian in a chemical plant.

She said her first two marriages broke up because she did not want to play the role of housewife. Her own mother refused to speak to her for two years because Stein chose to leave her two daughters with a caregiver while she worked, Stein said.

While political correctness may now control what men say to their female peers around the water cooler or conference table, women should exercise caution, she said.

“Now they all watch what they say, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking” that men deserve more from the workplace, said Stein, who has been happily married for 38 years to a retired dentist. Now, she supports the household while he does charity work. They have a joint checking account. All five of their daughters went to college.

Legislation through the years has been aimed at combating the kinds of inequities Stein shared, with varying degrees of success.

As lawmakers in 2005 weighed the implications of wage parity, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act. An identical bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, where it passed. It stalled in the Senate.

President Barack Obama in 2009 signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows employees to sue based on current paychecks. Before that law, there was a statute of limitations on paychecks that limited when someone could sue. This bill provided that each gender-unequal paycheck constitutes a new violation of the law.

Whitman noted that the U.S. has had a total of only 36 female governors throughout history. While other countries have had female heads of state, the U.S. has not, she said.

“I wasn’t sure we could do any worse than the gentlemen did,” Whitman said regarding the lack of parity. She noted that currently only five women serve as governors in the 50 states.

“We need to have a variety of (voices) at the decision-making table,” Whitman said. “That means more women and more minorities. That is the world we live in.”

Determining just compensation is a complicated subject, other speakers agreed. Men play more golf, where certain decisions are made, speakers said. Men easily ask for raises, which some women find difficult, and men tend to dominate in blue-collar jobs where overtime can be more plentiful, they said.

In the end, compensation should be linked to performance, speakers agreed.

“I decided I was going to take the jobs no one else wanted,” said Robyn Mingle, who has spent more than 30 years in human resources for Black and Decker Corp. and Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. before she took her current position with IT&T. She has traveled extensively for her career, including stints in the Middle East.

When she thinks she is worth more money, she asks for it. She said she knows there may be consequences for doing so, but she tries to stay positive.

“I get up every day wanting to be great at everything I do,” she said.